Should vegans be allowed protection under human rights grounds in Ontario?

Can a too-liberal interpretation of creed eventually lead to over-inclusion? iStock.
Can a too-liberal interpretation of creed eventually lead to over-inclusion? iStock.

Vegetarianism and veganism are as old as father time. Even the dinosaurs had herbivores amongst their kind.

However, should one be entitled to human rights protections for being a vegetarian or a vegan?

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has recently updated its definition of the concept of “creed” and Animal Justice, a group that advocates for the humane treatment of animals in Canada, is arguing that ethical veganism should be recognized as creed under the updated definition of the word.

In its definition of “what is a creed?” the OHRC writes in its policy document Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed, which was just released in December 2015:

“The Code does not define creed, but the courts and tribunals have often referred to religious beliefs and practices. Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.”

Ethical veganism is defined as people who follow a vegan diet but also live by the philosophy of not harming animals either through dietary means or by what they wear.

Technically then, and by the OHRC’s definition, ethical veganism could fall under the definition of creed. After all, the OHRC’s policy document says there is a need to apply “a liberal and purposive interpretation to Code protections for creed…”

The policy document goes on to say that a creed is:

  • A sincerely, freely and deeply held belief;
  • Is something that is integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfillment;
  • Is a particular, comprehensive and overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices;
  • Addresses ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death, and the existence or non-existence of a creator and/or a higher or different order of existence;
  • Has some “nexus” or connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief.

The above definition of creed could cover almost any system of beliefs. The question then becomes where do we draw the line at how far creed can extend as a protected ground under human rights law?

If the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal eventually rules that ethical veganism is a creed protected under human rights law, that is all nice and good, but again where do we draw the line? Can a too-liberal interpretation of creed eventually lead to over-inclusion?

For example, can Canada’s Jedi Knights then claim they are a creed? Although at last count there were only about 9,000 people in Canada reporting as Jedi, Jediism is a religion to those that follow it and there is even an international Temple of the Jedi Order.

And what about the people who celebrate Festivus, a secular holiday made popular by the television show Seinfeld that takes place on December 23. Do they have the right to time off work if they believe in this holiday enough for it to become part of their belief system? After all, Festivus was actually created to be an alternative to the commercialism of Christmas and people actually celebrate Festivus. You can even purchase a Festivus pole online.

There is no question that people’s fundamental human rights must be protected, but we need to be careful in how far we extend the grounds for which protection is allowed.

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